A Tale of Two Seasons

Best Times

For anyone who paid the Oilers even a fleeting amount of
attention, it was clear that 2014-2015 was actually two separate and
distinct seasons for the Oilers. There was the Eakins season and the Nelson
season. Combining the two, as many will do years from now, is to throw context
right out the window. When we look back on the year that the team had and see
that Hall had fewer than 40 points and Yak had just 33 it’s going to be seen as
a disaster. That’s not entirely fair, although the year was a disaster on the
whole.

Under Eakins the team was ultimately a little better in their
possession game at even strength. The numbers just don’t lie with this. They
were slightly ahead here, but for Eakins to get there it cost him dearly. He
was so disconnected from his team that they were effectively lost out there and
at times looked disinterested. When Nelson took over, Jordan Eberle would
be quoted saying that Eakins had them trying to up their Corsi on the power
play. I think it’s important to have prolific shot attempt differentials on the
PP. I also don’t think telling players they need a better Corsi is helpful.

Eberle looked bored during the first half of the year.
Yakupov was in a brutal scoring slump. The Nuge wasn’t as effective on the PP as
he had been in previous years. Something was wrong. Something was broken.

When Nelson took over there was an instant change in
attitude and production offensively from the club’s key players. The season is
over now and we have the chance to take a look at the final numbers. Eakins
coached the team this year from October through December 15th.
Nelson was up but had to share the bench with MacT until December 30th.
So numbers for his season began from the 30th of December until the
end of the season. I have put the players’ points per 60 minutes under both
coaches at even strength and on the power play then listed their point pace
over an 82 game season (assuming health).

View image | gettyimages.com 

Player                                   5v5/60                  PP/60                    82
Game Pace

Hall (Eakins)                        1.65                        3.46                        59

Hall (Nelson)                        2.18                        1.19                        61

Eberle (Eakins)                   1.82                        2.90                        49

Eberle (Nelson)                   2.22                        7.92                        77

 

RNH (Eakins)                      1.97                        2.16                        54

RNH (Nelson)                     1.72                        6.12                        64

 

Yak (Eakins)                        0.93                        1.92                        21

Yak (Nelson)                       1.48                        6.01                        46

 

Schultz (Eakins)                 0.92                        2.05                        30

Schultz (Nelson)                 0.48                        4.02                        29

 

Purcell (Eakins)                 1.23                        4.59                        37

Purcell (Nelson)                 0.96                        3.56                        30

 

Pouliot (Eakins)                 2.19                        0.00                        33

Pouliot (Nelson)                 1.89                        6.34                        56

Numbers courtesy War-on-Ice.com 

This represents the top six forwards and the only defenseman
expected to score. Klefbom could have been used but he only had 10 games with
Eakins this season and I didn’t think it was fair to include a rookie in this because
we expect them to get better as the season progresses a bit anyway.

On the whole we see a marked improvement in scoring numbers
under Todd Nelson, and a lot of that is power play driven. That isn’t necessarily
great, but the good power play performers over the last four years have production
around four points per 60 minutes or better on the 5v4, so it’s not as if we
should expect a cataclysmic drop for certain players. But even at even strength
the Oilers were getting more out of Yak, Eberle, and Hall with Nelson as the
coach.

The most dramatic change was with Nail Yakupov. He went from
a third line player who was on pace for 21 points to a bonafide second
line player scoring at a 46 point pace. Todd Nelson probably saved this kid’s
career. He looks like a player back on track to being a top six forward. A 25
point difference in production, if we extrapolate the splits over 82 games, is
about as stark as you can get.

Slightly less “dramatic” but with an even greater difference
in points over 82 games was Jordan Eberle. A 77 point season is top 10 in NHL
scoring. Indeed if we look at all teams from the time Nelson took over in late
December, Eberle is 8th in NHL scoring.

Todd Nelson unshackled the kids. Let’s also keep in mind
these changes occurred with a blueline that had difficulty moving the puck out
of its own zone and back up the ice. It’s not easy for the forwards to generate
a lot of points when they’re hemmed in their own zone all the time or taking
passes in the skates from Fayne or Aulie.

In this tale of two seasons there are a lot more positives
that came from the Nelson portion than the Eakins. While a couple players in
Purcell and Schultz actually dropped in productivity, their peers all saw a
boost. And Hall’s PP numbers are so low under Nelson that there’s almost no way
they don’t rebound.

When we dream of the Oilers somehow pulling themselves out
from the bottom of the basement there obviously needs to be an influx of talent
on defense and in net, but at least with the players under contract there
was improvement within this past season.

Over 82 games we’re talking about an additional 80 points
between all the players listed above — 80! That is unfathomable. The Oilers have
something going with Todd Nelson and I know they want to keep their options
open in hopes that a good team fires their great head coach, but I won’t shed a
tear if the interim tag gets taken off of Nelson and he gets to run this team
the way he sees fit.

  • Ar_C

    Under Nelson we had the makings of a 3rd scoring line . the fourth still prefers to dump the puck into corners as apposed to actually trying to score .I think the Oilers can turn things around next year with a true number 1 goalie and a better defense. If the Oilers can get of to good start to the season, they might surprise. Momentum and confidence can be a beautiful thing

  • Harry2

    We need a strong possession team in order to compete in West . That means players with good skills on back check and fore check . That means defence that can carry the puck out of own end with regularity . That also means players being supportive of one another and adapt at reading plays from their teammates and opposition . To little surprise we have few players well rounded players that actually fit that category to any positive degree . Perhaps Pouliot , Hopkins improving this year , and Klefbom also improving . Rest of squad is questionable at being able to play well at a possession game. Our team , as it is now , is not adapt and likely will not be much good at a possession type game . I think MacT. is delusional thinking this club can excel at a possession game .

    • Serious Gord

      Correction, there’s two ways we can go here:

      1. What you mention – which with group is proven to cut offense down to the bare minimum, and even a good coach would have trouble getting successful results.

      2. Abandon the three scoring lines nonsense and acquire two veteran two-way wingers who can contribute on offense and play a traditional third line shutdown game, just like all the teams above us do. This also makes our 4th line with Hendricks and Klinkhammer more effective, since they’re getting sorties away from the top oppostion and far worse zonestarts. Plus it looks like Gordon and Lander both can handle this job.

  • Ar_C

    MacT assessment of Dubynk, Petry, Shultz, starting the year with two NHL centres and Eakins. Is defining how top coaching candidates will think about working for MacT.

  • smith

    The Oilers good after the season is finished. Who would have ever expected that.

    Maybe it had something to do with the lack of pressure. Anyone expecting it to continue next year is quite possibly in for some disappointment.

    • S cottV

      True the pressure was off, but Nelson had them playing with a lot more fire and desire on most nights. That’s something I just didn’t see in the first half. If they can start the year with that desire, playing with something to lose only would seem to add extra motivation.

      There were a lot of nights the team looked disinterested, and for the most part that disappeared when Nelson got on the bench.

      I would not mind seeing Hall back on one of the top two lines. Maybe Roy can help even Hall develop some of his game, and excel with two excellent wingers on either side of him.

      The Pouliot, Nuge, Eb line really seemed to get it going when they had to be the puck carriers. I think at least Nelson has to try those combos as it gives him two pretty impressive top lines. Furthermore, Lander and Purcell were having some decent success when Lander first got brought up. I think there is a solid internal option for that third line spot.

      You should also remember Hendricks, Gordon, Ference, and Nikitin all went down to injury at the end. Not to mention Petry was traded, Hall only returned for the final few games, and even Lander and Pouliot were out for a stretch under Nelson. The fact he did as well as he did given what he had is almost miraculous. You would have to think with a healthy team and even a slight upgrade on Defence and at goal, Nelson could get this team playing .500 hockey.

  • Zarny

    I like Nelson. The players seem to like Nelson. That he’s more likable seems to really taint analysis of the Oilers under Nelson.

    The PP was considerably better under Nelson. But if there is no way Hall’s numbers don’t rebound then there is no way Nuge, Eberle and Yak won’t fall back.

    At 5v5 Hall, Eberle and Yak improved under Nelson. Eberle also improved over the second half last year. And Hall’s 2.18 5v5/60 was still a long way off his pace last year.

    Otherwise, Nuge, Schultz, Purcell and Pouliot all saw their numbers drop at even strength. And the team’s record under Nelson equates to 73 pts over a full season.

    That isn’t exactly good.

  • JBear

    One factor people are missing is that Draisaitl was our #2 centre. While someone earlier mentioned what would have Nelson done with LD compared to Eakins, Roy was a much better fit for this team and Yak. With that being said, I did see this team’s “mood” improve once Eakins was gone. Eakins just seemed not to personable and couldn’t relate to most of the team, or anyone in general. He just didn’t seem to have a happy side. Like Sad Sutter.

  • S cottV

    One of the key measures of a coach is his ability to influence.

    For a number of reasons – a guy like Babcock has way more power for maximum influence, as compared to a guy like Nelson.

    It isn’t even close.

    When you have a group that has been and continues to wander in the deep dark forest, you would prefer your coach to have the power of maximum influence, to be able to lead the group into the light.

    I doubt Babcock would come to Edmonton, but there are 4 or 5 other guys that are in his league.

    It would be another dumb@ss move on MacT’s part – to not bring one of these guys into the fold.

    Somebody said – Hitchcock wouldn’t be much better than Eakins? OMG.

    Put Hitch in for 3 years with maybe Nelson as an associate?

    We would get outta the forest and Nelson might just learn enough to be able to take over.

  • JBear

    There is no way an experienced NHL coach will come here – Hitch, Babcock, Tippet, etc due to the inability of MacT, Lowe to provide NHL players or evaluate existing talent (Petre) and sign them.

    So Nelson it is

  • lchnssmnstr

    My 2 cents.

    Point differential does not account for games played under Nelson while players were losing their sad sack attitudes. He did very well at lifting their spirits, but it was not a matter of flipping a switch.

    Next year is another development year. Nelson has proven himself as able to develop players.

    Give him a couple of years to continue the development – he has earned it.

    And let 6 rings and MacT have some time away from the game. They deserve a break (from hockey management).

    *google is not a verb

  • Petrolero

    “When we dream of the Oilers somehow pulling themselves out from the bottom of the basement there obviously needs to be an influx of talent on defense and in net, but at least with the players under contract there was improvement within this past season.”

    Oiler writers are about as inept as oiler management. The depth at forward in the bottom 9 is as vital as Defence. Until then, you can’t possibly evaluate and indight goaltending. Dubnyk now thriving is a prime example. Also, to a lesser extent, without depth in the bottom 9, you can’t properly evaluate defencemen. Team D requires capable forwards. And without the ability to develop bottom 9 depth, effective team D is not possible.

    That said, oilers management is most inept in that over the last 10 years they couldn’t draft and develop adequate bottom 9 talent. For this reason alone, it’s unforgivable.

    Katz should look a few hundred k’s south, to see that a rebuild that is devoted to development, will position veterans throughout the AHL and NHL so the youth can learn from and leapfrog them if they earn it. This point is confounded by the reality that drafting and developing the Prusts and Boumas is equally important as developing the Monohans.

    _Flames fan, Oilers follower.